As most of you know, my husband, Ed, is a recovering alcoholic (sober since 1984). When I married him, I had no experience with alcoholics, and I just thought if he had a stable, happy home life, he wouldn’t need alcohol anymore. Well, the next 10 years taught me otherwise, and during that time I learned almost everything there was to know about alcoholism (and so did he). One of his favorite lessons to cite is the difference between being “dry” and being “sober.” “People mistakenly use these word interchangeably,” he notes. “Being dry,” he says, “is truly hell on earth. When you’re dry, you are abstinent from alcohol, but you wake up every morning wanting it. When you’re sober, you’re still not drinking, but you're at peace because you’ve totally lost the desire for alcohol.” His empathy is reserved most for those poor, unfortunate folks for whom every day without alcohol is a struggle.
When Ed was a few years into sobriety, Rachel would position herself in front of the TV whenever a beer commercial came on so her dad wouldn’t be tempted. Ed would just laugh. He tried to explain to her that there was no internal fight anymore - no temptation, no craving, no desire. He had learned that he had been using alcohol to numb emotional pain, and after he learned how to heal, he didn’t need it or want it anymore. He will be forever labeled as as a “recovering” alcoholic, not a “recovered” alcoholic; hence, his license plate says “HEALING,” not “HEALED.” But the hold alcohol had on him for all his adult life until 1984 had virtually and completely disappeared. He was not dry; he was truly sober.
That wisdom has lain heavily on my mind this week, the week of Black Friday, the first official week of the frantic Christmas-shopping season of 2007. I don’t even need to consult a calendar to know what week this is; the flyers in the newspaper and the mountain of catalogs in the mail serve as inescapable clues. Two Christmas-shopping seasons ago, we were desperately trying to sell our house. Last Christmas-shopping season, we were in the middle of building this house and living out of town with Rachel and her family. This is actually the first Christmas-shopping season that we have been unencumbered with house-selling anxiety or house-building anxiety. It is the first time we have been able to calmly reflect on where we are in our simplicity journey and where we want to be - and even how far we have come - in the midst of all the advertising, sales, priority topplers, and financial hazards inherent in this season.
We don’t watch much TV anymore, so we’re immune to those commercials, but we do get a daily newspaper and a few magazines, and, of course, that aforementioned mail avalanche of catalogs, and we do go to the mall occasionally and the grocery store every few days, so we know it’s Christmas-shopping season and we are aware of what’s out there, what’s new, what’s enticing, so we are not wholly unaffected. I have found myself drooling over the new digital cameras, amazed at how inexpensive they are (for many more megapixels than my current camera has), and there are a few DVDs I would enjoy owning, and quilt paraphernalia is always tempting, but even as I let these feelings pass over me, I note awareness of them and let them go. I then put the paper down and head back to my office/sewing room, where I am attempting to make most of my gifts this year - a time-consuming and frequently anxiety-ridden process for those of us who are both procrastinators and perfectionists - that deadly personality combination.
My conclusion is that it may be a long stretch of time for me to travel the simplicity journey from “dry” to “sober,” and that’s OK. It’s impossible to put blinders on with this surrounding consumerism furor, and it’s just the truth to acknowledge that certain things would be enjoyable to have or be useful in my work and hobbies.
Meditation techniques usually instruct the practitioner that, when thoughts intrude during the relaxation time, the best course of action is to silently acknowledge them, then let them go. In the simplicity journey, I am trying to acknowledge these tempting ways to spend money and let them go, looking forward to the time when I move from “dry” to “sober,” knowing that it’s a long trip with many stages. It is one thing to state your priorities, yet wake up every morning desperately wishing you could buy the latest gadget. It is another thing to state your priorities, and actually feel more content and happy without so much “stuff.” I’m sure that day will come.
In the meantime, back to my homemade gifts. Hey - no peeking!